I Have a Family Emergency


Everyone has a life beyond work, and occasionally that life involves family emergencies. Sometimes, work seems overwhelming and dominates our lives, making it difficult to balance family responsibilities. Balancing work and family life can be even more daunting in the face of the stress we experience when a family member is somehow in crisis. In this post, we offer a few pointers to help you navigate these sometimes-perilous waters.

What Constitutes a Family Emergency?

The definition of “family emergency” is fluid – it differs from person to person and from case to case. The terminal illness of your aunt is certainly a family emergency if she raised you in the absence of your mother, but it may be a sad, albeit less critical, life event if she’s someone you saw only every other Thanksgiving. There are many shades of gray in each case. Here are a few guidelines that might help you decide if you have a true family emergency:

• Does the issue concern an immediate family member or someone who is effectively in that role?
• Will your presence during the emergency make a significant difference either to the person in need or to you?
• Is the issue likely to persist for some time, such as a terminal illness?

The first two points can generally be decided fairly easily. As for the third, a long-lasting issue may potentially involve the need to seek time off on multiple occasions. Only you can truly determine when to take the time off, but you may want to save the ask if you think the situation will last a considerable amount of time.

How Much Capital Do You Have in the Company Bank?

How long have you been employed at the company? How have you fared at review time? In short, how much value and goodwill have you built that you can now lean on? Maybe you don’t think it should matter, since you’ve got a serious family emergency and those factors really shouldn’t be taken into account. In a perfect world, you’d be right. But you are dealing with real people who will be affected by your absence. It stands to reason that an employee with a long-term, pristine reputation will be given more leeway than a new or underperforming employee might receive.

So, what if you don’t have a large amount of capital in the company bank?

• Come to the meeting at which you plan to seek time off armed with some proposed solutions. Perhaps talk to colleagues in advance to solicit their support in covering for you.
• Offer to take on extra work or projects in the future. If you can specifically delineate what these might be, even better.
• If possible, make yourself available via telephone to help out from time to time during the time you’re away. This might also help you get some much-needed distance from the emergency.

What Impact Will Your Absence Have on the Company?

Another factor you should also consider is the impact your absence will have on co-workers. While we’d all like to believe we are extremely important to the futures of our respective companies, as the saying goes, “the graveyards are full of indispensable people.” However, there are certainly times when your presence is more important than others. Suppose you work in finance and it’s budget season. That’s probably a more important time for you to be at work than shortly after the budgets are completed. Ditto for a tax attorney in late March or early April. So, as you are considering asking for time off to deal with a family situation, think about the impact your time away will have on your coworkers and whether other people will be able to easily pick up the slack. Will there be serious negative consequences for the company, like a missed tax deadline, or for client relationships, like not finishing a project by a due date? If so, come to the table with a plan to minimize the damage. If you have a relationship with the client, contact that person in advance of talking to your boss. Explain what’s going on and try to come up with a workaround or extension. If the issue is a government-enforced deadline, like a tax filing, work on getting an extension. Anything you can do ahead of time to lessen the impact of your absence will be to your benefit..

Taking time off for a family emergency is anything but a cut-and-dried decision. If you need some help thinking through a potential emergency situation, give us a call at 301-520-9511 or email us at bob@epi.coach.